Friday, December 15th, 2017

Isabela House (Construction Log 8) Construction 24 Hours A Day & Graft

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The switch to 24-hour operation has made a big difference and we wonder why this wasn’t done from the start. However, given that the building permit application process has been so protracted, the delay in the back fill hasn’t actually held up construction. Yesterday they redistributed and compacted around seven truck loads of fresh gravel and one part of the site had risen to within about a half a meter of the red target mark on a steel rod. In fact they only need to bring it within 6 inches as the remaining distance will be taken up by a stone layer and finally the thickness of the concrete floor itself.

We normally visit the site at the end of a day to sit in the cool shade of nearby trees as the sun begins to set over the mountains to the west. The sky was so clear yesterday afternoon that the sun was quite dazzling and as sunset approached around 5pm it was positively artistic watching the men working in the fading light against the silhouette of banana and paper tree leaves. We wandered through the neighboring lot to visit the area that Nelson has recently started to plow in preparation for rice sowing. More water is entering from the nearby irrigation but as the land is terraced it’s still well below the level of the construction site.

At present Nelson is creating a nursery area to grow the young rice plant seedlings. At the next stage, with the assistance of local workers, he will divide and replant them in the newly plowed and irrigated fields. The same pattern is being repeated in other fields we pass on our way to the construction site. Mostly we can see the irrigated fields but here and there we see the intense patches of light green, the small rice seedling nursery areas.

For our roughly one hectare of cultivatable land we have paid Nelson an initial 9,000 pesos which covers the cost of seed and fertilizer plus paying for assistance at the splitting out stage. Later more money will be required for insecticide. Harvesting and threshing is generally paid for in rice rather than cash. It will be interesting to see at the end if we get our investment back (in cash or in rice) but maybe it will not be possible to measure the economic return until all our land is in use. At present we are deliberately leaving fallow any area which if irrigated might pose a threat of flooding to the construction site.

The back fill is almost at construction height now and the men were extending to the two meter distance the surrounding back fill where it had fallen short and lowering the height of the garage. There are steps up to our front door so it made sense that the garage floor should be lower than the house floor.

The project engineer has been told that the man assessing the payments due for the building permits at city hall should know the amounts by Monday. Apparently it depends on the percentages of the different components in the application e.g. sanitation, electrical etc and on the location.

He also told me he had ignored a recent text request for money from one official. In principle these permits will be issued as the buildings do comply with the building code. Any request for money beyond what is legally required will be dealt with by our contractor who have their own lawyers and Northcon take a strong line against any corrupt practices where they encounter them, which sadly they frequently do.

It is three weeks since the project engineer applied for the building permits. He now has a breakdown of the amount he has to pay but as, surprise surprise, the city engineer has been sent away from his office on an assignment for the mayor, he is not available to sign the permit. We are told he is back in his office tomorrow. So we live in hope that he will find the time to sign so that the project engineer can pay and collect the permits.

Apparently the amount due also includes contractor tax which is officially not due until April next year and in any case is levied once and in Manila where Northcon is based. This effectively means that our contractor is being double taxed. I suggested that they might want to discuss this with the BIR who administer taxes in the Philippines to ensure it is a legitimate charge. What this has to do with issuing our building permits we have no idea but it illustrates the stranglehold of red tape in this country. The contractor says they will pay but not until next April when it is normally due. There is also no reason why they should pay tax in advance but again they will confirm their rights with the BIR.

The site in contrast is actually ready to go, at least for the Hyner house. The adjoining site for the Mangligot house is still being back filled and it is early days. But they will operate two shifts a day now to catch up and they expect to complete both houses at the same time as the Mangligot house is smaller.

We met Jerry, the MD of Northcon, on site today for a demonstration of the wall construction. No concrete was poured but they assembled the wire mesh around the Styrofoam panel together with the spacers and the steel rod columns which will bind together the outer and inner concrete walls that sandwich the insulation. We then discussed the further development of the project: a perimeter wall, back fill for the driveway and access road, and a pool. The latter has the advantage that as we have raised the site by so much there is little or no need to dig down and it is more a question of back filling to create the ground around the pool. Of course in the end it will come down to what we can afford, but it’s nice to daydream.

It was a beautiful late afternoon and we again stayed until the sun set over the mountains to the west of us. It should make the view from our lanai quite spectacular. All around us are the newly planted rice fields. Only the back of our lot and the adjoining land we have rented is still waiting for rice which will happen in stages once the construction area is safely above the irrigation water level.

Yet again we noticed how few insects were bothering us. Quite a contrast from the yard of the house we are renting where I am constantly attacked by midges, mosquitoes and ants unless I apply some OFF cream. I think they wait in the shade of large mango trees that occupy one side of the yard above the kubo.

There was no project engineer out at the construction site and no text message from him either so we have no idea whether he has succeeded in extracting the building permits from city hall. Yesterday Northcon were saying they expected to start construction on December 22nd which is next Tuesday. Philippines law requires the issue of building permits no later than 15 (working days we assume) days after the application is made.

You can view Andy’s MySpace Blog here: http://www.myspace.com/495233545/blog


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